Lapses in voter registration justify extension -CODEO
5/18/2012 1:30:05 PM -
By Phyllis D. Osabutey
The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) has stated that the many challenges that beset the just-ended Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) exercise could affect the integrity of the final register.
The forty-day registration exercise, which was carried out from March 24 to May 25, 2012, is said to have encountered some irregularities and challenges, including equipment malfunction as the most common problem, deviation from Electoral Commission's (EC) registration procedures, and inadequate supervision of the EC temporary staff, among others.
The CODEO, comprising some thirty nine secular, religious and non-governmental organisations, trained and deployed 620 persons to observe the BVR exercise under the supervision of fifty regional coordinators, covering 620 randomly sampled polling stations in hundred districts across the ten regions of Ghana.
Relaying the findings of their observation to members of the media in Accra, on Thursday, the Co-Chair of CODEO, Professor Miranda Greenstreet, said the provisional findings was based on 6,188 processed observation checklists, representing 99.8% out of an expected 6,200 checklists expected from the observers.
Touching on the limitations of the BVR exercise, she said: 'Almost all the various equipment supplied by the EC at a number of centres observed suffered breakdowns at one time or another.
'The printers will not print, the fingerprint scanner would no longer recognise fingerprints, the webcam could only take blurred photos, and the computers would not respond to commands. Sometimes, these severely malfunctioning equipment had to be carted to the technicians in the district offices or the regional headquarters of the EC for repair or replacement.'
Overall, she said, CODEO recorded 106 incidents of kit malfunctioning, which caused delays, and registrants who could not bear the long wait left the registration centers, while other prospective registrants decided not to return to register due to the uncertainty regarding the opening of the centers.
Also, she noted that many of the registration staff used the faulty equipment as an excuse to violate some of the important registration procedures such as engaging in pre-mature fingerprint capture.
She cited a case in Northern Ghana where due to the heat, some fingerprint scanners could not operate after the morning hours. 'Some registration officers tried to get round the problem by capturing the fingerprints of many registrants before screening and interviewing them for their bio-data, taking advantage of the cool morning hours.'
Additionally, in some highly populated electoral areas in the cities where registration teams were overwhelmed by long queues, EC officials were reported to have completed only part of the whole process, such as collecting bio data, while preferring to complete other processes like data entry the following day.
CODEO believes 'the outcomes of the foregoing deviations could cause integrity problems for the final biometric register when it is ready.'
The Co-Chair further mentioned that data processed indicated that visits of EC monitors to the registration centers were quite infrequent, such that 61% of checklists processed showed that no EC monitors visited the registration centers.
According to her, while some challenges with the challenge procedure were corrected in subsequent phases, some would-be challengers recoiled when told to fill the forms, and 'unfortunately, some party agents resorted to challenging registrants outside the vicinity of the registration centers.'
In spite of the problems, 'CODEO reiterates its broad satisfaction with the BVR exercise, notwithstanding the initial anxieties surrounding the fate of the exercise,' said Prof. Greenstreet, while commending all Ghanaians, the EC, the Ghana Police Service, civil society organisations and political parties for 'their role in helping to bring this phase of the compilation of voters' roll to a successful end.'
She said according to the EC's preliminary figure, about thirteen million people were captured for the new BVR. 'From our observations of all the four phases of the exercise, CODEO can now confirm that a majority of the registration centers observed largely followed procedures laid down for the registration of voters.'
However, she went on to make suggestions that to prevent any severe national crisis during the December polls, serious care should be taken to provide adequate protection of the verification equipment from the weather, and provide back-ups and adequate technician support.
Also, she observed that 'the high incidence of the equipment break down and suspension of registration in some areas, justify an extension of the exercise in those areas. Any extension should also consider students who were writing exams during the registration period.'
Furthermore, she called on the EC to be very thorough and diligent in implementing the next stages of compiling the voters register, and remain on course to deal appropriately with all cases of multiple registration and challenges filed during the exercise.
'CODEO calls on the EC to clarify the position on the registration of prisoners, so that it does not unduly delay the completion of the voter roll,' she further said.
Among other things, CODEO implored the police to brace itself to play its enforcement role with utmost firmness, and without fear or favour, taking a cue from the BVR exercise, and particularly, should intensify their efforts to bring perpetrators of registration offences to book, regardless of their political affiliation or status in life.